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Posts Tagged ‘revenge’


Last night I spent the two and a half hours watching The Revenant. It was a bit plodding, and at times it was clearly brutal, and confusing. It was also oddly theological.

It begins with an attack on a trapping party in a northern wilderness in the 1820’s. You aren’t sure why they are being attacked, but as the story unfolds, it seems to be connected with a missing young Souix woman. Or that could be a different tribe of Native Americans that comes along. Hence my on-going confusion. Little did I realize that this search for Powaqa was so central to the story line as Glass keeps coming close to being killed by this driven group of men.

Glass was a tracker and woodsman with a Native American son. He was the guide for the (illegal?) trapping party which seeks to make its way back to their fort after the attack.  It is along the way that Glass encounters an angry momma bear who mauls him horribly.

This is the other key event of the movie. Captain Henry, who values Glass, returns to the fort while leaving the nearly dead Glass in the care of 3 other party members, including Glass’s teenage son. Fitzgerald is a man who fears death, and the Native Americans who he believes are on their trail. Unable to move under his own power, Glass is slowing them down. He wants to abandon Glass and digs a grave. Glass’s son refuses to leave his father. Glass is able to watch but unable to stop as Fitzgerald kills his son, buries Glass alive and leaves. He deceives the other young man who didn’t witness all of this.

Glass pulls himself out of the grave, driven by his thirst for vengeance. Ans so he crawls toward the fort using only his arms through the frozen wilderness. Eventually he is able to walk and continues his trek despite only having a canteen and the bear skin. He faces the threats of cold, animals and the party searching for Pawaqa.

Amazingly he avoids death and comes across a young Pawnee man eating raw buffalo meat. He receives mercy from this man whose tribe was killed by the Souix. He is moving south to find more Pawnee. The subject of revenge comes up, as you imagine it might from a man who is only alive to gain revenge. “Revenge is the Creator’s.” I’m not sure from whence his notion came, but it is an echo of Romans 12.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The two men travel together as the Pawnee cares for the still healing Glass. That is until he stumbles upon a French group who kill him while Glass sleeps during a storm. Glass discovers these Frenchmen have a young Native American woman. He decides to assist her while she is being raped (yet again). While they are distracted by Glass who takes the Pawnee’s horse to escape, Pawaqa is able to escape. In the distance Glass hears the battle as the Souix gain their vengeance on the Frenchmen who abducted Pawaqa. Glass, however, had left his distinctive canteen behind.

The lone remaining Frenchman has this canteen when he stumbles into the fort. This prompts Captain Henry to gather a search party to find his friend. While he is gone, Fitzgerald steals the Captain’s money and literally heads to the hills. After discovering this, Henry and Glass pursue Fitzgerald into the mountains.

It is as Glass is on the brink of gaining his revenge that two things happen. First, he sees the Souix hunting party. Second, he remembered that “Revenge is God’s.” He pushes Fitzgerald into the water and the current takes him to the Souix who kill him.  As the Souix ride by Glass, you see Pawaqa which explains why Glass is the only white man they don’t kill.

What it was over I thought “God must be a group of angry Souix”.

As I thought more, I was reminded that God often used “the nations” to bring judgment on His people. He used the Assyrians to judge the northern kingdom. It was equally ungodly Babylon who was used to judge Judah.

In Romans 13 (don’t forget, the chapter divisions are note original) we see that the State bears the power of the sword to bring His vengeance upon the wicked.

In The Revenant we see this Souix hunting or war party as the instrument of vengeance upon a variety of wrong-doers. While uncertain about the original battle, clearly the Frenchmen (murders, woman-stealers and rapists) and Fitzgerald (murder, betrayal and deceit).

24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 1 Timothy 5

Sometimes what seems like chance or coincidence is God working to bring the truth to light, to bring people to judgment. C.S. Lewis notes that “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Perhaps The Revenant is more than vaguely theological, but theologically driven. For eyes that see it is, as God works through this series of coincidences to bring a number of wicked men to judgment. This judgment was not “traditional”, but in disputed territory it can come in unexpected ways. And when the legal authority is part of the problem it may come in unexpected ways.

In the words of Steve Brown, “you think about that.”

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I flirted with pacifism in the late 80’s. Maybe it had something to do with my disappointment with the Iran-Contra Affair at the end of Reagan’s presidency. But it was triggered by a conference in New England sponsored by an organization for which I’d later work.

Tony Campolo was there (and you thought it was Ligonier, didn’t you?). He was giving his argument for pacifism with a very emotional argument. “Can you see Jesus with his finger ready to drop bombs on people?” As a new, immature Christian I thought “no, I can’t”. Perhaps I hadn’t read to the end of Revelation yet. You know, that part where His robes are covered in blood as He’s been trampling His enemies? You know, Jesus is riding a warhorse? While Jesus now extends the offer of peace, don’t confuse Jesus with a pacifist.

There has been a resurgence of pacifism. Perhaps it is in response to the decade-long war on terror. I can understand, I’m weary of the whole thing. Perhaps it is all the shootings. I’ve seen plenty of people speak as if we should be pacifists in the midst of those gun control conversations. I was about 5-10 minutes away from Gabby when she was shot. Our community was rocked.

Gregory Boyd is another proponent of pacifism. And Shane Claiborne has popularized those views (I don’t give him a hard time for working with the poor, but for his horrible interpretations of the Bible). Recently someone was shocked that I, as a pastor, was defending gun ownership to protect people. Shouldn’t I be a pacifist? After all, didn’t Jesus say …

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I wrote this on 9/13/01 for our church newsletter.  I tried to offer some perspective.  I hope to follow this up with a “now” take.

Spring 2001 from the Staten Island Ferry

What is probably the single most horrible act of terrorism in history has ushered America into reality.  The so-called reality shows that are so popular now can never top live footage of two passenger jets colliding, purposefully, into the World Trade Center.  Until this moment we have been under the illusion of being invulnerable.

The horrific bombing in Oklahoma was done by one of our own.  Other acts of foreign terrorism on our shores have been minimal and shut out of our national consciousness.  Never again.  The world is filled with such acts, though not on this scale.  And we will never be the same.

The responses in our hearts are mixed.  We weep for the victims, their families and even ourselves.  We’ve been stripped of that illusion and it is painful.  There is also anger, even outrage.  I’m reminded of the song “If I had a Rocket Launcher” by Bruce Cockburn.  It was written after witnessing similar horrible acts in South America in the mid-80’s.  If he had one “some son of a b—  would die”.  That is how I feel at times.  Do you?

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Over 50 years ago, the death of U.S. missionaries in Ecuador shocked the nation.  Life Magazine covered the story, providing pictures of the massacre.  For many people, the story ended there.  For the families of the martyred missionaries, it did not.  Some of their families ended up returning to the tribe that had slain them.  Then grace happened.  Much of the tribe, known by anthropologists as one of most brutal cultures, laid down their life of revenge at the end of the spear.

Steve Saint’s father Nate was one of the men killed that day.  His aunt Rachel was the first to re-establish contact with the Waodani Indians.  Soon Nick’s wife joined her in living among the tribe.  Young Steve Saint grew up among the very people who murdered his father.  His aunt would remain there until her death, leaving only for vacations.  Upon her death, Steve traveled back to Ecuador for her funeral.  They asked him to stay.  The movie End of the Spear chronicles the story to that point as Steve finally comes to understand what had happened all those years ago.

The Grandfathers is the final installment (so far anyway) of the story.  It is primarily about his son Jesse, and the time he spent there as a teenager.  Unlike End of the Spear, it is more of a documentary (though not quite) than a movie.  I screened it with some friends, one of whom is a pilot and who volunteers with United Indian Mission.  We were all left wanting more.

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I was a little surprised when CavWife said she wanted to see Taken.  I had heard of the brutal torture scene (yes, though extracting information it was torture and tainted by revenge), and thought she wouldn’t be interested.  Ironically, while watching a preview she commented “that’s just about revenge.”  Nevertheless, while at Redbox, I picked up Taken and a Val Kilmer movie I’d never heard of, Columbus Day.

Liam Neeson plays a former CIA “preventer” named Brian Mills.  His casting in this role seems less likely than even Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.  Perhaps I should be cast as Mitch Rapp.  But, I’ve never seen Liam in person so I have little context for this assessment.  Perhaps he’s stronger and quicker than I imagine, but I think it is largely the result of quick shots and editing.

Anyway, his teenage daughter Kim travels overseas.  She tells her father she’s going to Paris to see the museums, but he discovers she’s really going to follow U2 around on a European Tour.  Shortly after arriving in Paris, she and her friend are taken by human traffickers.  Brian uses his skills to track the traffickers and retrieve his daughter.

There is not much of a plot besides this, and it moves at a rather quick pace.  He’s working against the clock, and he’s been trained to compartmentalize so he’s not agonizing over any of this.  But he kills and maims his way around Paris to find his daughter (granted, more noble than Bourne’s escapades in Europe).

As I lay on my bed it came to me- this was a picture of grace (granted, a stunted one).  I realized this when I reflected on the fact she didn’t deserve it.  To be rescued (yes … I’d rescue my daughter, perhaps even creating similar carnage).  She lied to her father and manipulated him.  She was also lied too by her friend who put her in such a dangerous position.  But she was essentially a spoiled, ungrateful child who disobeyed and betrayed her father and placed herself, by her selfishness, into the arms of human flotsam.

That is me.  I didn’t deserve to be rescued from the mortal danger I’d placed myself in.  Romans 5 says that Jesus died to save us while we were ungodly, sinners and enemies of God.  We do not deserve this, nor can we earn it (as Capt. Miller told Private Ryan to do).

Perhaps that is why she exclaims “you came for me!”  Maybe, while being to be sold as a sexual slave she realized how selfish she had been.  Some days I need to recapture the amazement that “He came for me!”

Unlike Brian Mills, He didn’t rescue by taking out the even more evil ones.  Oh, that will happen later.  But Jesus came to rescue by offering His life in our place.  This is why I say the redemptive theme in Taken is stunted.  Brian Mills only risked his life, and offered to pay a ransom.  He wasn’t the ransom.  Jesus was.

But, as I lay on my bed after a sin-filled, selfish day, I was reminded how undeserving I am, what grave danger I was in, and that He came for me.  Yes, a picture of grace.

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(circa 2000, interacting with a section from the book I mention)

If you are in relationship with people, whether at home, church or work, it is impossible to avoid betrayal.

“Essentially, betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment of care” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path).

This means that betrayal involves a broken commitment to guard your well-bImage result for the healing patheing.  It can come from a friend who shares your darkest secret.  Or a co-worker who steals your work.  Betrayal opens the door for us to grow in faith, if we do not avoid all it brings with it.

Betrayal comes on different levels.  The damage caused by a break of confidence is less than that caused by a parent who abuses their child emotionally or sexually.  But the relationship intended to bring blessing has now brought harm.

The betrayal does not remain a private affair, but soon spreads to the community.  There is no way to keep a fight between two people isolated– others inevitably become involved.  This could be as simple as hearing one’s complaint, or as complicated as taking up one’s cause against the other to repay the damage.

Betrayal forces us to make choices.  We can deny the damage done to us.  Many choose this path.  Others recognize the damage, and use it as an excuse to justify their sins against the perpetrator.  The best option is to recognize the damage, and then marvel at the faithfulness of God in contrast to our instability.

What damage is done?  First, our sense of identity is taken apart.  As relational creatures, our identity is composed of our various relationships.  When one is broken, it casts a shadow of doubt upon the rest of them.  Will they betray me too?  This doubt eats away our relationships because the life we thought existed, doesn’t.

Our initial response is to blame ourselves.  We should have seen it coming.  Or perhaps we failed first, prompting this person’s sin.  We enter a period of self contempt or blame.  I was there when (an ex-)girlfriend left.  “Am I so stupid that I couldn’t see this coming?  The signs were all there, why did I give her my heart?”

Image result for fish called wanda revengeFor better or worse, we do not stop there.  We soon move to believing that someone must pay.  We desire revenge for the wrongs done to us.  I always think of Kenny, the stuttering thief from A Fish Called Wanda, clearly crying “REVENGE!” as he drives a steamroller over his tormentor Otto.

Since our hearts are deceptive, we do not always direct our rage at the one who hurt us in the first place.  It could be easy for me to make my next girlfriend pay for the wrongs of past girlfriends.  Severely abused people often don’t recognize how they harm those around them, or themselves.  This is particularly true with sexual abuse.  The victims often become perpetrators themselves, or destroy themselves through eating disorders or promiscuity.  The initial betrayal is not an excuse of later sinful choices, but we begin to understand why.  Then we address the broken parts of a person to bring restoration as well as repentance.

Then, at last, comes numbness.  We no longer care.  This is where most of us end up.  Life, so to speak, goes on hold.  We stop caring about just about everything.  “Yeah, sure.  Whatever you want.”  The pain overwhelms us, and we go on autopilot.  We stop living, but not functioning.

It is here that we lose faith.  God no longer seems faithful and true.  We forget the abundance of times He has been good to us.  Our legitimate desires go unmet, and our faith shrinks.  We enter into autopilot with God as well.  We don’t stray outwardly, but our hearts are numb towards him.  We become legalistic and distant.  “God failed me.  It doesn’t pay to pursue him.”  We become stuck; powerless and ambivalent.

This is the place where God invites us to see our idolatry.  We expect others to be what only God can be for us.  No one, and nothing, has the ability to perfectly meet our needs (much less our desires).  When forgiveness can’t be extended, I must recognize I have not given them the freedom to fail.  I expect them to be perfect– and only God is perfect.  I have also made God into something He is not.  He does not exist to meet my every desire.  He’s no genie in the bottle to grant my wishes.  I worship a false god, which is also idolatry.  In my idolatry, I make myself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).

I never ceased to be amazed at how God orchestrates circumstances to reveal myself to me.  It happened on the way back from GA.  A “quick” stop for gas turned into a nightmare.  I was angry and petty.  The next day I could see just how demanding I was.  I saw my need to having things go the way I want them to go.  In short, I was humbled by a glimpse of my utter sinfulness.  This was my invitation to repent of my idolatry.  Part of me hates that I am powerless to “keep” a girlfriend (whatever that means), prevent an elder from resigning, etc.  My longing to be god is exposed.

This is good!  For God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, 6).  This humbling brings me to the throne of grace, where I can find mercy, strength and grace from a faithful God.  One faithful enough to wound me and then heal me.  I walk what Allender calls the “healing path”, the road of sanctification.

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